’13 Hours’ Review | Jingo Unchained
If you’ve seen any of Michael Bay’s Transformers commercials over the years – and if their box office numbers are any indication, you probably have – then you also probably have a pretty good idea of what this particular director thinks of the American military. In short, he thinks they are FUCKING AWESOME! YEAH! LOOK AT ALL THAT COOL SHIT THEY HAVE AND THEIR BEEFY MUSCLES YEAAAAAAAAAH! THEY’RE RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING and so forth.
And while his extreme jingoism seems almost pornographically redundant in films that already have giant robots punching each other, it plays a little differently in a film that’s actually about the soldiers. Or, in this case, the CIA security contractors responsible for protecting the American outposts in Benghazi on September 11, 2012… which was, to put it mildly, a really bad day to have that job.
Divorcing 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from all of the political baggage that comes along with it might be a fool’s errand. (The film’s tagline reads “When everything went wrong six men had the courage to do what’s right,” which might as well end with “…Hillary.”) But strip away all the overblown shots of not-white people shooting the American flag, and the scenes where bureaucrats tearfully eat crow and admit that soldiers are the best Americans ever-ever and all you’ve got with 13 Hours is a straight-up siege picture. And it’s not a bad one.
Michael Bay’s particular brand of cinematic chaos can be frustrating in the Transformers movies – since you have no idea what’s going on at any particular moment, even though you’re probably supposed to – but in 13 Hours it serves an actual function. The confusion and horror of this particular event is palpable at all times. Even the heroes spend half the film on the radio trying to figure out what’s actually happening. 13 Hours is sound and fury, signifying sound and fury, and it’s hard to deny that it works.
Well, mostly. Bay’s characters are still stock archetypes. One of them even calls home to the family he hasn’t learned to appreciate, only to discover that A) he’s going to be a father and B) his life insurance has lapsed. Sigh. Meanwhile, the actual Libyan attackers are all but completely dehumanized, depicted as scary monsters or incompetents. At least Bay allows for one quiet moment, when all is said and done, for their families to mourn them. That’s more than Megatron ever got.
“Michael Bay isn’t a subtle director” may be the understatement of the century, but it’s not so much an insult as an accurate description. He could change his name to “Michael Bombast” and no one would bat an eye. His fully automatic editing style would make Sergei Eisenstein wet himself. By this point it’s foolish to think that he will ever calm down, but it is encouraging to see that he’s trying to apply his singular aesthetic to stories that might actually benefit from excessive madness. Over the top patriotism for its own sake, and not for the sake of selling toys to children, is at the very least a tiny step in the right direction.
Michael Bay may not be getting any better at making movies, but he’s getting more interesting. 13 Hours is exhausting and overblown and yet it feels sincere, and it’s not bad in its construct. Whether it’s bad in its politics is a judgment I leave to you.
Top Photo: Paramount Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.